A worry about public transit

July 6, 2012 at 08:37 AM · So I've heard of violins being stolen when the poor person wasn't even with it (left in a hotel room or car for instance), but that has never really been my biggest worry as an urban violinist. My instrument has to take public transit with me, often daily, and sometimes I must walk alone at night with it. I'm wondering if anyone has had their instrument mugged from them or taken in a moment of inattention? I'm hoping for some stories so I can learn from other people's mistakes and perhaps horrify myself into constant vigilance. Tips on how to keep it safe are always helpful too!

Replies (28)

July 6, 2012 at 09:47 AM · I've been mugged while my violin was strapped to my back, and all they took was my phone, if that's any reassurance!

July 6, 2012 at 02:36 PM · I don't have any experience with that but you could ugly up your violin case *shudder*...

July 6, 2012 at 02:38 PM · You could get a concealed-carry permit. For your shoulder rest, of course.

July 7, 2012 at 10:24 PM · I also follow the carry a gun at all times rule, whether I have an instrument or not. I have been an attempted robbery victim 3 times, (didn't carry back then so no dead perps.) There are lots of criminals on the street, and to them a lone man or woman carrying a musical instrument case is an all you can thief for free buffet sign. Be aware of your surrounding, NEVER travel alone if you can help it. And if you are victimized, put up a fight! If they were going to kill you they would just do it, these people are cowards and the slightest bit of resistance send them running. They don't want to work for it, if they were not afraid of hard work they would not be robbing people, but WORKING for their livelihood.

July 7, 2012 at 11:09 PM · What a sad world you live in. No one should carry guns, ever. Police in the UK and in NZ are not routinely armed. Once everybody carries it just turns into the wild west of old movies.

Cheers Carlo

July 7, 2012 at 11:12 PM · Maybe, Carlo, but unfortunately they do-and I'd rather the responsible citizens have them than the criminals have the monoply!

July 7, 2012 at 11:22 PM · Kathryn, Is the solution not to ban all guns? It works in many countries in the world. I would not choose to live in a country where I was in fear of my life. I come home late at night on public transport and have never had any trouble in London.

Cheers Carlo

July 7, 2012 at 11:23 PM · Thank you Katherine, I feel the same way.

When guns are outlawed, only criminals will have them.

Also, everyone around me is safer due to my presence.

July 7, 2012 at 11:31 PM · Surely, criminals get guns because it is easy to buy guns. Your society appears to be malfunctioning and your streets unsafe. The UK is far from perfect and there is crime here however we don't live in fear of flying lead.

How can one feel safe if everyone carries guns? To my mind that is illogical. Better that no one carries guns including the police.

Cheers Carlo

July 8, 2012 at 03:36 AM · You can dress like Humphrey Bogart and carry your violin in a guitar case. Then they will think you have a tommy gun in it. . . Better yet you could get a cello case and have enough room for your violin and the tommy gun.

July 8, 2012 at 03:46 AM · JK

I hope this doesn't get hijacked into another endless political thread.

July 8, 2012 at 04:41 AM · The American attitude to carrying guns always makes me double take. I can't imagine living anywhere where carrying a gun is even remotely necessary. And if I felt I had to I'd move.

Around here the biggest danger with musical instruments and public transport is the kids leaving them either at the bus stop or on the bus. I threatened to padlock my daughter's flute case to her belt if she did it again (we retrieved the rather expensive silver flute, and in any case it was insured). The violin has so far made it back and forwards to school unscathed.

Most muggers aren't going to recognize a violin as something easily saleable. They want quick cash, and stuff that can be sold quickly and untraceably. Avoid flashy cases, showing off money or expensive toys like pads and iPods, have good insurance and if you are in an area you don't know well (or know and are uncomfortable) don't travel alone.

July 8, 2012 at 04:27 PM · I've been in airports and buses and trams and train stations and pedestrian malls and such in Chicago and Minneapolis and I personally have never had a problem. I'm a tiny girl who might as well have a target on my back for robbers. I bring a companion when I can, keep the case on my back, keep a small purse under my arm, walk strongly and purposefully, pretend to be engrossed in things, and look confident and business-like, not timid or afraid. I've talked to more than one musician who privately rolls their eyes at the common perception that big cities are cesspools of crime and depravity. All you can do is use common sense and your intuition, and be as prepared as possible. Really, isn't that the best you can do? The alternative is living in fear, which I'd think would result in nervous body language, which would then make you even more attractive to thieves. Maybe you would feel better if you studied some rudimentary self-defense? I definitely would.

July 8, 2012 at 07:02 PM · I carry my violin round in an expensive looking Musafia and live in an area with a lot of muggings going on even in broad daylight, i've never been targetted. A lot of my friends at conservatoire have been mugged around the city but never of their instruments.

I think a lot of criminals are unaware of the worth of instruments (or even of what might be in the case)... a friend got her house robbed and they left her expensive oboe there!

I also pretty much never leave my violin in my student house... unless im going somewhere where i really cant take it (eg. going out with friends!) then i'll take it even if i dont need it that day! My brother got his house burgled when he was in a student house and that day i had planned on leaving my violin there... well it would be gone if i had have, so i keep it strapped onto me at all times!!

Plus despite being a small timid girl, im a gymnast and extremely strong... if someone tried to mug me, i'd make sure they regretted it!

July 8, 2012 at 08:51 PM · One needn't fear flying lead in London, but I noticed that the sale of aluminium baseball bats went up 6500% during a recent period of unrest.

No doubt baseball is replacing cricket in the UK, but the whole thing seems kind of sudden.

Most thieves won't botherwith musical instruments, because most instruments are not worth stealing. Hard to fence a Chinese VSO for 10% of its value, and hardly worth the aggro.

Jewelry, watches, cell phones, and cash are worth bothering with. But there are not enough bent orchestra musicians looking to pick up a hot fiddle.

July 8, 2012 at 09:41 PM · I have not heard of any crime in the UK involving a baseball bat and it is not a game played to any large extent in this country.

If you are referring to last summers riots, there are disaffected youth here. They have had their future stolen by greedy bankers. The economy has been seriously damaged and there is a whole generation of young people who have lost hope and may never find work.

Cheers Carlo

July 8, 2012 at 09:45 PM · I've never personally had such an experience, even living in New York City all my life, and being in the subway (our underground) innumerable times. But of course I've heard stories about others.

I agree with a lot of advice above. Don't exude nervousness, but confidence - w.o. any chip on your shoulder. I also agree that an instrument is not usually the prime goal of a mugger - it's usually cash and small electronic devices. So many of us today carry cases in shapes other than the tradtional shaped case, and I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what I was holding. So it's not like someone sees your case - even if it is shaped - and most likely thinks: "Oh boy! Violin=Strad=loads of $ for me!".

I would add that you should use the same reasonable care carrying your case as you would with a hand bag: Don't hold it by the handle in your hand, where someone could easily grab it out of your hand and run off with it. Use the shoulder strap firmly on the opposite shoulder, or use the back pack feature, if you prefer.

Finally, keep vigilant. Never allow yourself to sleep if you're by yourself. Be aware of your suroundings, and if something or someone doesn't feel right, listen to your gut feelings and try to move away. But don't get paranoid, and do enjoy life. With just a few ounces of prevention, the odds are greatly in your favor!

July 8, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Of course you haven't heard of baseball bat crime. They were used by otherwise disarmed citizens to protect themselves from the poor kids whose future was stolen by hte evil bankers. The poor kids who were robbing and burning the neighborhoods, and destroying the future, of the folks trying to make a living.

My heart goes out to mobs everywhere; they're just trying to turn their lives around, basically just good kids who need a bit of guidance from the government. Along with handouts paid for with VAT and income taxes on the leeches who are so bold as to have actual jobs.

July 9, 2012 at 12:28 PM · I've been on the New York subway systems at night. My viola IS my protection. I mean, no one wants a viola......

---Ann Marie

July 9, 2012 at 12:38 PM · lol! And a good, solid case could be used as a battering ram!

July 9, 2012 at 01:40 PM · Bob, I don't pretend to have a solution. Just today the head of Barclays bank resigned with a £20 million bonus after his bank, with his knowledge fiddled the libor rate. This cost hard working people far more in interest rate rises than the support of the unemployed.

Of course rioters should be punished. But why are those who have bankrupted the nation been bailed out with my tax pounds instead of being held to account. I believe in the capitalist system, but in a true system those who make losses loose money and are not bailed by their friends in government.

Ann Marie, Is it true, if you leave your viola case on view in your car, you can use a disabled parking bay?

Raphael, I once had to fight off a Rottweiler with my Gordge case. The case and I survived unscathed.

Cheers Carlo

July 9, 2012 at 02:06 PM · If you've ever worked with a band ("band" as in "with mics, amps, mixers and l/speakers") you become aware that vans and cars stuffed with the band's electronics are prime targets for the light-fingered unless sensible security precautions are taken. 4-foot high l/speakers tend not to walk on their own, though :)

I suspect that guitars in their cases, both acoustic and electric, are more attractive candidates for the "alternative" market than violins.

July 9, 2012 at 03:58 PM · @ Carlo -

I don't know about parking, but once I put the letters V I O L A down the front of my case and when I got on the subway, people moved aside to let me in.

---Ann Marie

July 10, 2012 at 01:03 AM · I read somewhere that the best thing to have to defend yourself against a subway mugging is a small wad of cash (small bills, wrapped together with a rubber band) that you can throw in one direction while you run in the other.

July 10, 2012 at 12:20 PM · I was mugged a couple times in NYC, back before it was as safe as it has become today. Car has been broken into (Elizabeth, NJ), apartment, too, outside of New Orleans.

The viola wasn't of interest. When our apartment was broken into, they really turned the place upside down... and had opened up my wife's viola case and just left the viola sitting on top. (Yet they stole a really cheap bottle of wine with the price tag right on it!)

When my car was broken into, they took a CD player which had a CD of orchestral excerpts for viola in it at the time. I always imagined the thief driving away... and soon after the window coming down and the CD being tossed out into the street ;)

July 10, 2012 at 05:35 PM · Wow Scott was it at night you were mugged? This past October I found myself in a deserted subway station after playing Chamber music on the upper east side. The station was really creepy...half of the lights were out, and the ones that worked, buzzed and flashed on and off.

When two men showed up and stood on the deserted platform with me, I began talking to myself out loud, and 'conducting' some of the pieces I'd recently played. The guys didn't do anything, but they got in the same car as I did, which meant I had to keep talking to myself all the way into Midtown. It was exhausting!

---Ann Marie

July 10, 2012 at 10:18 PM · Maybe musicians are not such soft targets to the experienced thug-a-thief anyways. To most of us, the instruments monetary value is of secondary importance, it's true value lies in your connection to it and what you can do with it. The bond you have with it, what you have been through together and where you are planning on going. Our instruments are our friends, families and lovers. I will make many thousands of dollars over my life, but I will never find another Elise. You'd have about as much luck trying to get me to hand over my dog or best friend as my instrument.

Of course, I grew up in a large, urban, music town, and every corner it seemed had a pawn shop full of a myriad of instruments. Your common gutter robber KNOWS that he can fence an instrument for booze or drug money, and as most these thugs grew up bullying the "orch dorks" and "band nerds" before they dropped out of school, it is only a natural transition to continue and expand that behavior as time passes.

July 12, 2012 at 11:36 AM · Hi Ann-Marie,

Once was late at night in a group (we thought if we walked each other home as a group, we'd be safer!), but once was right on Broadway in the afternoon.

I should've talked more to myself!

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